28.01.2021 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Why the “Brain Dead” Transatlantic Alliance Cannot be Revived


While the Transatlantic alliance continues to exist and even wield some military power, last four years have seen it becoming increasingly irrelevant in terms of its ability to shape bi-lateral relations between the US & Russia, EU & Russia and EU & the US. Its ability to influence the outcomes of different conflict zones, including Afghanistan, has also considerably reduced over the past few years. This, for instance, is evident from the way the US continues to withdraw from Afghanistan despite NATO’s warnings. The most important reason for this increasing irrelevance is a sea-change that has occurred in the Europe itself, with most European states positioning themselves in ways that do not allow smooth convergence with the US. This is likely to continue.

For instance, if an apparent reason for this “transatlantic crisis” was Trump’s emphasis on European states contributing more to the defense/NATO spending, the Joe Biden administration is going to push for the same. It means that the underlying forces that triggered the “transatlantic crisis” will continue to play their role in the years to come, allowing an increasing number of European states to look more and more inwards to determine their foreign and military policies than outwards following the US.

The “transatlantic crisis” has been compounded by how the European perception of the US has changed from a global pattern of “democratic values” to “a broken polity” under the Trump administration. The forces of disruption, even after Trump’s exit from the White House, are likely to continue to influence US politics as the riots in Washington showed. In his farewell speech, Trump said “the movement” was only beginning.

For Europe, “this movement” could have significant ramifications in both domestic and international political arenas. The “path of autonomy” the Europeans have chosen to follow is unlikely to change because of this very “movement”, a political thinking very much present in the US body politic that can bring another Donald Trump back in the White House in the next four years. For Europe, therefore, sticking to the path of autonomy makes sense in all possible ways.

How Europe has “changed” is evident from a recent survey conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations. The findings of this large survey show why Europe is increasingly looking inwards for determining its global political and economic policies. According to the findings, an overwhelming majority of the Europeans do not think that Joe Biden can revive American as a “global leader.” A key finding of the survey shows that “majorities in key member states now think the US political system is broken, and that Europe cannot just rely on the US to defend it.”

Since the US is no longer a “global leader” and Joe Biden stands no chance of reviving its lost status, “a majority [of the Europeans] believe that China will be more powerful than the US within a decade and would want their country to stay neutral in a conflict between the two superpowers.”

What this, in other words, means is while the Europeans believe that Biden will try to engage internationally and shun Trump’s “American First”, the US no longer has the capacity to make itself “great” again. And, while Joe Biden may have his desires to revive the Transatlantic alliance, Europe is no longer interested in simply subordinating its agenda to that of the US.

This was emphatically re-affirmed by the French minister of finance and the economy, Bruno Le Maire, in an interview with New York Times. He said,

“the European Union and European countries have a strategic choice to make…. We need to move on the fight against climate change, the building of new industrial assets, innovation and pave the way for a new European continent that will be stronger, more independent and able to run the race of the new technologies.”

Whereas Europe is making its own choices in the light of a fundamental change in the way the Europeans look upon themselves and the US, Joe Biden has surrounded himself with interventionists who think that the world, without the US patronage and liberal interventions, cannot survive. This was recently asserted by the US Secretary of state-designate Antony Blinken during his confirmation hearing. He said that US global leadership “still matters” since the world is incapable of organizing itself “when we’re not leading,” as some other country may usurp America’s lead role impacting “our interests and values..”

With an overwhelming majority of the Europeans, including European leaders, believing that the US political system is completely broken, Blinken’s claims about US global leadership are most likely to be laughed off. This is especially likely because of an increasing European push for redefining its ties with Russia through the Nord Stream 2 project, and with China through the recently singed China-EU investment deal.

In this context, with the NATO still standing as a “transatlantic alliance”, the sea-change of attitude in Europe is going to make the old continent a lot more assertive in determining the alliance’s policies. As French minister said, while we are still an ally of the US, we are an “ally that does not want to submit”, adding also that there is a clear difference between “working with” the US and “working under” the US.

As it stands, the old continent has already re-imagined itself in a fundamentally different way, making it a lot more difficult for the Biden administration to establish US leadership and convince the Europeans that US leadership is the only way to ensure the continent’s economic and military security.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.